It was around 10.30 at night when Sachin Tendulkar drove up to his Mumbai restaurant in his sporty BMW, along with brother Nitin, wife Anjali and the sister of his business partner Sanjay Narang, Rachna.
It was Nitin Tendulkar's first trip to his brother's restaurant, so Sachin played the host, taking his brother around, showing him everything in minute detail.
Meanwhile, word of the superstar's arrival had spread through the restaurant, creating a buzz. People thronged to get a look at him, shake his hand, wish him in advance on his 30th birthday, get an autograph.
Though it was a family outing, Sachin patiently obliged the fans, smiling through it all. Having met all the requests, he then led his family over to the bar where they made themselves cozy.
It was a fascinating glimpse into the man -- even here, he stayed alert to everything, interacted with the bar-tenders and stewards and when something was not up to his standards, promptly waded in and put it right. A framed photograph of himself with childhood buddy Vinod Kambli was, in his view, not lit the way it should be -- so there he was, trying to reach up to the light on the ceiling and adjust it.
When he settled down with me for a relaxed chat, he first made sure I was comfortable, asked for a Peach Iced Tea for me, and then began to talk.
Thirty years old? Well, he grinned, plenty of people around are older than me, so actually, I feel quite young.
"I enjoy food," he told me, when I asked him what prompted him to jump into the restaurant business. "I like different varieties. There are plenty of things here in my restaurant which you will see marked as my personal favorite. So it made sense for me to combine my interest in food with this business."
He was all praise for partner Sanjay Narang. "We are in constant touch with one another. Whenever I saw something interesting in any restaurant I visited, I would call him up, tell him about it, and ask, so what do we do? Sanjay, Rachna and Anjali get together a lot, design a lot of things, they have worked very hard to make this happen."
There is in his tone evidence of his excitement, and satisfaction, in having created a restaurant from scratch. Ask him about how it worked out in practice, and he tells you how Sanjay, Rachna and Anjali would create mock-ups of everything, from the décor to the furniture to the crockery used at table, and he would examine it all and give his suggestions and if he didn't like something, he would then look around for alternatives.
"Sanjay and I are good friends," he says. "He understands my commitment and that is the most important thing. It's an understanding between friends, we didn't get into a formal agreement about this will happen or that will happen, it is just that he understands how important cricket is to me so he makes sure that nothing interferes with that. He gives me all the space I want to concentrate on the game while he takes on himself the burden of running the place."
Ask him about cricket, and he winces -- this is a holiday, a very rare one for an Indian cricketer, and it is obvious he would like to leave the subject alone. Yet he talks, of his injury that caused him so much pain during the World Cup campaign, pain that was not evident to the watching world.
Displaying his left knuckle and lightly rubbing the injured area, he tells me, "I have to leave my hand in the doctor's hands, there is not much I can do. It is difficult to describe the problem in medical terms; the doctors have told me it will take anywhere between two to three months to recover."
He is all praise for the youngsters coming through the ranks. "Aavishkar (Salvi), I always knew he would bowl well," Sachin says. "I had a net session with him in Bombay and that is when I realized his potential. I talked about him to the seniors in the side; I am not at all surprised at how well he did in Dhaka. I think he is here to stay. Also Kaif, Sehwag, Zaheer, Ajit, Mongia, they are all extremely talented players; they have a bright future ahead of them."
Sachin believes that the "imported" troika of coach John Wright, physio Andrew Leipus and physical trainer Adrian Le Roux has accomplished miracles.
"They worked very hard, helped us during difficult times. Adrian in particular has given us directions; we know now how to train, and keep ourselves fit. Andrew (Leipus) knows all our injuries and that helps, even when we have to play back to back games he makes sure we stay fit; he knows what it takes for our bodies to cope. It is a good thing that they have been given this extension."
Talk of the famous Indian huddle, first unveiled during the World Cup, brings a smile to his face. "It was all because of (sports psychologist) Sandy Gordon. The idea basically is to bring us all together, even in bad times. As a team, it is very hard to get our act together when things are not going well, so we do the huddle and it helps a lot.
"It is like, on the field you know you have ten steps to take, ten wickets to get. So after each wicket we get together, congratulate ourselves on having taken that one step, remind ourselves of how many more steps there are to take.
Sandy actually also met with each individual player, what he told them is confidential though."
While he is not too keen to talk in detail of the World Cup, ask him about memorable moments and the answer comes pat. "There have been many such moments in thirty years, but the one that comes immediately to mind is beating Pakistan in the World Cup, for me that was the highlight."
His reluctance to talk of cricket owes to the fact that it is the first real break he is getting in a long time. "It is a forced break," he muses, looking at his injured knuckle, "but I must say forced breaks are very nice," he grins.
What would he say to some youngster who wants to play the game? The answer is quick, pithy, and a summation of his own sporting philosophy: "Enjoy your game, be sincere and honest. If you follow the right road, nothing can stop you. There is no substitute for hard work. The going is tough, there are sure to be many obstacles but if you are true to yourself, determined, and honest, nothing can stop you."
As we talk, a girl strolls up to shake the star's hand -- and cannot resist the chance to pop a quick question. Predictably, it is about the huddle, which appears to have caught the imagination of the nation.
"It does help," he tells her, "it peps you up. The bowler and fielder who got the wicket feel they are appreciated, that the team knows the two of them made it happen. We encourage one another, we crack jokes, we say pretty much anything, really, it all depends on the situation. If it is tight, then we think of the next move, but if it is the ninth wicket down and you know the game is in your pocket, we kind of joke and laugh and say pretty much anything. It is a way to relieve the pressure, and to come together as a team."
I wished him on his birthday, wished him the best for his career -- and he smiled, thanked me, and, while his family waited on the sidelines for some quiet time with him, strolled over to a fan at a nearby table, for a quick chat and a photo-op.